The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus, Part 4:
For Better and For Worse
Gabriel gasped as he came back to consciousness. He sat bolt upright, almost knocking heads with Lisa. “Where’s Cole?”
Lisa, the needle in her hand, blinked. “The whole ship’s lost its mind. I don’t know.”
Gabriel tried to move, finding that the field dressing was more painful than he’d ever imagined, but that he could move. He levered himself to his feet, cringing. “I have to stop him before he shoots the Captain.”
“Up, take her up!” came Sparrow’s shout of command.
“I’d say he hasn’t shot her yet,” Lisa said. “Now sit down.You don’t have enough blood to run your whole body and think too.” She scuffed through some on the floor. “Pretty.”
Gabriel staggered across the room and fell onto his equipment. Bracing himself against the bar, he grabbed two wires and twisted them together. The airship’s rapid ascent dropped Lisa to her butt on the deck and nearly flattened Gabriel against the bench. Gabriel smiled. If nothing else, that would tell the Captain he was alive and well.
Angelia clutched the wheel, knowing exactly how fast the ship could rise. Straith channeled the gas appropriately, but an extra boost told her Gabriel was still on the job, despite Cole’s best efforts. The sudden rise made Cole--who had just gained his feet--sit down hard, and she was ready for that.
She shot him again, the lightning making him hitch and jerk. She pulled a second gun and fired a net over him, the darts at the edges pinning him to the deck before he could recover. Returning her attention to the wheel, she took advantage of the z-axis rise and the ensuing confusion among Cole’s men, to lay hard about.
The incoming ships came in hard. The whine and scream of powering weapons and engines was deafening. The flagship, faster than the rest, was the only one that pulled upwards to the altitude of the Inky Suki. It seemed to pause a moment, the hitch before someone yelled the attack.
Angelis kicked open the Combat Bellowing Tube. Gabriel had a fancier name for it, but she preferred hers.
“Attention Locke and Rowe ship! We have Cole Locke as our prisoner. Any attempt to fire on us will lead to his death. Stand down and prepare to be boarded for parlay!”
After a moment, there was the sound of a lone gunshot that rang out over the whine of the engines. The figure of a man fell from the side of the ship, only to be ripped asunder in the melee below. Another voice came over a responding tube. “Inkstained Succubus Ship! While we would regard the loss of our brother as no great loss, understand that you are outmatched and outgunned. Prepare for boarding under parlay.”
“Of course I am,” she grumbled under her breath and well away from the tube, “Why do you think I asked to talk first?” She addressed the tube. “Lucas, sweetie, come on over. You and two men. Gabriel will be happier to see you than I was to see your brother.”
The engines shifted. Several more bodies were flung overboard as things resolved themselves on the other ship. Angelia suspected Lucas was doing bit of housecleaning before boarding. The ropes came flying shortly thereafter, and Lucas stood proudly, shirtless, on the boarding plank. His hair was wild and unkempt. He had almost as many bruises as his brother, and there was something hard about him as the plank slammed down and hooked to the side of the Inky Suki.
Angelia looked over to see Gabriel making his way slowly up the stairs, a pole in one hand to steady himself. “Lucas…”
“If it is Lucas, and this hasn’t been some sort of elaborate Shakespearean twin double cross.” Angelia kept the lightning pistol on the man on the plank.
“I can tell you.” Gabriel made his way across to the plank, slowly and carefully. He fell into the man’s arms and leaned up to kiss him. When he pulled back, he smiled, only to lean his cheek into the man’s chest. “You’re Lucas. I’d know the kiss anywhere.”
“Get aboard, you idiot before you wobble right the hell off the plank,” Angelia snapped. “Let’s talk.”
A flurry of activity later, Gabriel was supported on a bed across from the two Captains. Cole, still wrapped in the net and twitching, sat in the corner grumbling to himself. Lucas clapped his hands and laid them flat on the table. “Alright. You called for a parley. Parley.”
“First, what is it you’re wanting? Is there a way to get it without a lot of people having to get shot? And you do know, Cole wanted you killed in battle?”
Lucas looked down at his hands. “I...am somehow not surprised. He threw me to the crew for my rebellion earlier.” He touched his cheek gingerly across the wide bruise marking his skin. “Cole wanted revenge for you refusing to publish. He needed the support for a large push. He was trying to start a war this time, not just support one. I can stop that now, but he didn’t just buy out your suppliers, Captain Sparrow. He destroyed the supplies.”
“I figured as much after we destroyed the printing machine. We’ll be all right if we have to go to California to get supplies. So now we get the added bonus of stopping a war.”
Lucas nodded. “Without his contacts, we’ll have no issue calming things back down. But...we need to dissolve the company of Locke and Rowe. He’ll be doing no further damage, especially without his bargaining chip.” He looked down. “I suppose you’ll be asking me to go and turn myself in.” He shuddered a little, for a moment exposing the damaged person his brother had made him.
Angelia laughed. “Pirate. Why would I ask a thing like that of you. But we do need the company dissolved, that armada below us off our tail. On the other hand, you don’t get off scot-free either.” She looked at Gabriel. “I assume you can come up with a fitting punishment?”
Gabriel nodded. “Oh, I can think of a thing or two to do with Lucas here. Cole, on the other hand? Up to you, Captain.” An evil grin crossed his face as he glared at Cole, who glared back, his potential protestations muffled by a gag.
“Hmm,” Angelia kicked back and eyed him speculatively, “wondering if President Harrison and the goombahs in congress might have a suitable problem with our little war monger, or if we should take matters into our own hands. I hear the railroads are buying pretty men for their brothels out west…”
Cole screamed in protest, unable to form words. Lucas smiled, and it wasn’t pleasant. “A taste of his own medicine seems right up his alley.” He turned to his brother. His voice took on a mocking tone that was obviously one that had been used with him. “I truly hope you enjoy yourself. After all, it’s what you’re good at. You just let me do all the thinking, and enjoy your little slut phase. I’ll put it to good use, brother.” The sneer twisted strangely on his features, much easier to see on Cole’s face strangely.
Gabriel pushed himself up and gently put a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “Fair enough. We’ll make some money back, but we leave it there. After all - your freedom is forfeit at this point, Lucas.”
“Shame he didn’t learn anything from your slut phase,” Angelia grumbled. “Look, I’m going to put a three year sentence on you both. Cole, we’ll lease you out for that time.” She ignored his protests. “And Lucas, you are Gabriel’s for those three years. If he needs wires twisted, you twist. If he needs to test a device, you’re the guinea pig. If he wants a sandwich, you’d best ask double or triple decker.”
Gabriel leaned forward and whispered something into Lucas’ ear that made him turn a bright shade of red. “Yes, sir.” Gabriel grinned and took a kiss possessively. Lucas didn’t look too upset about the arrangement.
The long trenchcoat slapped against Gabriel’s thighs as he gave orders from the helm of the ship. When Captain Sparrow...well, Admiral now...had complete command of the Inky Suki and given Gabriel control of the Incubus a year ago, she’d become an admiral with the hat to match. She was back on the east coast, heading towards the Caribbean with a special delivery. He, on the other hand, had a more solemn duty - to retrieve Cole after three long years as a brothel boy. He looked up at the rigging.
Lucas climbed there, letting out sail, his skin tanned from the hard work and the silver of his collar gleaming in the sun. He caught Gabriel’s eyes and smiled, the smile of a dedicated lover. Gabriel had already offered to remove the debtor’s collar, but Lucas had refused. He gave the signal to come down and dock right outside the little town.
“Do you think he’ll have changed much, sir?” Lucas asked, stealing a kiss of Gabriel’s cheek.
Gabriel smiled, but quickly sobered. “Three years is a long time to be on your knees. He’ll have changed a lot, I’d wager.” He turned to the other rats. “Keep the engines hot!”
“I’ve enjoyed my three years there,” Lucas whispered as he went to help with the mooring and launching the dinghy.
Gabriel’s boots hit ground for the first time in months. He adjusted his gun and the belt of pouches that held his inventions. It had taken some getting used to when he abandoned his lab coat in favor of a captaincy. The town was small and dingy, not like some of the newer skyway cities the air-lines were connecting to. He knocked the dust away from his heels and headed into the town to look for the brothel.
Lucas waited behind, ready to cast off and run at a moment’s notice. One thing the time with the Admiral gave him was an appreciation for a fast exit strategy. He doubted the three years would have improved his brother’s temper any. If he knew Cole, the man had spent the time plotting revenge. But, he didn’t want to worry Gabriel.
The brothel was a terrible place, really. The rail workers weren’t the most kind or thoughtful of men, and the wing where the boys stayed wasn’t kept up like the women’s quarters. A girl with a limp greeted him at the door.
“What’s your taste?” she asked, her bored tone indicating she didn’t care what he chose.
Gabriel sniffed and stuck a hand in his pocket. “I’m here to pick up my property, actually.” He pulled out the papers that Cole had been forced to sign three years previous.
She hollered for the owner, a short round little man with a German accent. He looked over the papers and shook his head.
“No, no, that one, he is long gone. He killed his customer and went out the window in less than six months.”
Gabriel sighed and growled, crumpling the paper in his hand. “Of course he did. I’m sorry. Wasn’t he supposed to be chained?”
He was, he was. For many nights. But this client wanted a change, so he was unlocked. Stupid, sometimes I am stupid in giving the customer what they pay for.”
“Well, he’s had two and a half years to…” Gabriel stopped in his tracks and lost all the color in his cheeks. “And he knew exactly where we’d be on this very day. Fuck.” He turned and started to run, pouring on speed, back to the ship.
“Gabriel, dear man,” came the voice over the announcement horn before he could set foot in the dinghy, “so good to see you and my sweet brother again. I must say, I like the changes, especially the collar. I’d recommend getting your hands up. There are eight men around you, ready to shoot you on my say-so.”
Gabriel skidded to a halt, looking around him. He tried to pinpoint the men Cole was speaking of. “Cole, you aren’t going to get another chance from this. I was a younger man three years ago, and much more prone to mercy,” He called out clearly. “And if you’ve hurt one hair on Lucas’ head, I’ll do much worse. I -won’t- kill you.”
“Your precious captain made that mistake already. Or should I say Admiral. Oh yes, I follow all her butchery, of people and books alike, from a distance. I don’t need another chance, I already seized this one. And Lucas is just fine, aren’t you?”
“Gabriel,” his love sounded strained but not hurt, “run while you can.”
Gabriel slowly reached into his pocket and put fingers to the little mechanical box that lived there. “Cole, you’ve already lost. Surrender now.” He didn’t see the men Cole was referencing, and had to assume they were a ruse. Surely a man on the run from a murder rap didn’t have time to recruit an army.
A bullet slammed into the rail of the dinghy. A voice from behind him called “Might ought to do what the bossman says.”
“I don’t think so.” He pushed all of the buttons. Part of him winced to use one of his dead man’s switches to blow one of his engines, but he needed the distraction. As he heard the rumble and explosion, he darted to the left, headed for the dinghy.
Another shot into the dirt from that direction slowed him. Another voice said, “Bossman says we can’t kill you. Didn’t say nothing about not shooting you.”
Gabriel had to once again skid to a halt, this time with a curse in Mandarin. He put his hands up, finally turning to glare at the men. So they wouldn’t kill him. As long as there was life, he could hopefully put his brain to figuring out how to stop this.
The promised eight men emerged from their concealment. One nudged him into the dinghy and two more joined them. “Let’s go upstairs and see the boss.”
He went, marking each of these men as killers...and taller than him. He hoped the explosion had at least been enough for Lucas to get away and into hiding. His brother may underestimate him, but Gabriel certainly didn’t.
He came aboard to find Cole sitting in his favorite chair with Lucas chained and kneeling at his feet. Crew and outlaws rushed about, trying to put out the fires and save the ship, but Cole hadn’t turned a hair, as if he couldn’t bother with such trivialities.
“Good of you to join us, Captain. Lucas and I were,” he ran fingers through his brother’s hair, “catching up.”
Gabriel’s face didn’t change, though he folded his arms. He was much more a Captain these days. Parts of wars and deadlines had changed him. “Pathetic. Your own brother. So how long did they fuck you in the ass before you liked it, Cole? Hope you were better at receiving than you apparently are an active.” Yes, he’d learned much from the Admiral.
“Crude, aren’t you? But what else could I expect from one who took orders from a petticoat? I haven’t bothered with your leavings, if that’s what’s got you worried. But if you think I should…” Cole’s face left off the decadent aspect and he glared at Gabriel. “What I want is compensation for six months of my life. You, and your ship are going to get that for me. My men want money. That’s only one of my goals.”
“I won’t help you, Cole. My answer hasn’t changed. Not in three years. I’d hoped you’d learned something. Now, I see you’re full of nothing but darkness.” Gabriel spat at the man’s feet and stood proudly, half-certain he was going to die right there on his own deckplates. Not a bad way, really.
“Shoot him, boss, and we’ll use the ship,” said one of his outlaws, a spindly Mexican fellow bristling with weapons..
Gabriel resolved to keep an eye on that one, since he seemed to have at least half a brain.
“To the brig with him. Any of the crew willing to sign on for plunder can stay. Leave the rest in this slop bucket of a town.” He turned to where the crew stood under guard. “So, who wants to fly free and rich instead of taking up farming?”
Only a couple of Gabriel’s crew opted to stay. Their loyalty warmed his heart. He would have liked to insist they all sign on, and outnumber the bandit crew, but he couldn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure how to feel when Lisa, the former lab rat, now the chief engineer, stepped out of the men. “I can’t live on the ground,” she announced.
“We didn’t ask for a ship’s whore,” Cole said. “Besides, you shot me once.”
Lisa gave him an evil grin. “Nobody except me can fix that engine Gabriel blew. If you want to fly, I’m your only option.”
“Fine.” Cole’s face said it was asmirk.nything but. “One look out of line, girlie, and my men get a special treat. Are we clear?”
“As a silvery bell, Captain, sir,” Lisa said with a smirk. She turned and headed below decks, collecting two of Cole’s men to fetch and carry.
Prompted by her defection, Ying, his first officer, stepped out and bowed very low. “I am but a humble manservant to the captain, but I dream of flight and my freedom.”
“We can always use more help.” Cole gestured. “I think you get to be his jailor. Get Belthir off my deck, I’m tired of his face.” He yanked Lucas’ hair. “And when you maroon the rest, stop in and inform Herr Althaus you’ve retrieved his runaway who must serve the rest of his sentence, without ever being unchained.”
“You SON of a BITCH! I’ll fucking kill you! You’re going to regret leaving me alive, Cole Locke!” Gabriel screamed as he was dragged away by the remainder of the men. There were too many of them, and his own men were subdued. The Mexican man shook his head as Gabriel was pulled below decks.
Gabriel paced in the brig for hours, knowing that Lucas was being beaten as Cole back at the brothel. He wouldn’t serve a sentence. He had a murder rap. He’d be lucky if they left him with all his limbs. He beat on the door and the walls, wishing he’d bothered to put in some sort of escape hatch...except for the fact that he’d built this brig himself for men like Cole, and he knew there was no way out of it. By the time the door opened to reveal Ying with a plate of food, Gabriel was curled up against the wall with his head in his hands. He looked up. “About time, humble manservant. Took you long enough.”
“Ah, so sorry. Had to poison many many bad men,” Ying said in a terrible accent. He held up the key he’d concealed under the crust of bread on Gabriel’s plate. In his normal voice, he said, “Locke’s down to about a third of his crew. Lisa’s got the engines ready, but had told him it will take another day and a half. Never saw a white man who wouldn’t fall for the humble servant routine.”
“Yeah, well, white men are stupid.” Gabriel grabbed the key and let himself out. “Take care of as many of them as you can. I have to get to Cole...and then to Lucas before they remove things.” He slapped Ying firmly on the shoulder. “I’d promise to give you a promotion, but…” He couldn’t take any more time, and ran out of the cell. It didn’t take him long to find the armaments - the Incubus tended to coast through war zones regularly. He growled and headed for that bastard’s favorite chair quietly. No more chances. No more talking. He was going to shoot someone in the head.
“A raise will do,” Ying called after him.
He stepped over dead and bloating bodies, only to find that the chair was empty. He kicked the chair in a temper fit before coming to a realization. His face darkened, and he turned for the engine room.
“I really am not interested, Captain.” Lisa’s voice, cool and disdainful, floated up the hatchway and made Gabriel move faster.
“Get interested, brat,” Cole growled. “You’ve grown into something tasty and it’s been a long time.”
“If you keep crowding me, I’m liable to make an error and strand us here even longer.”
Gabriel kicked down the door to the engine room. It wasn’t hard - the bolts had been torn free. He levelled his gun and pulled the trigger. No mercy, no quarter. No hesitation.
Lisa spun around, her heavy wrench passing through the space where Locke’s head had been a moment before. The gunshot registered, and then the blood. “Ewww! Really, Captain? All in my hair?” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, I almost had him taken care of.”
“I was tired of -not- shooting him, sweetheart. I’m sorry. Are you alright?” He stepped into the engine room and held out his arms for her. Her bravado was always just that, and he loved her like his own.
She dropped the wrench and hugged him. “I’m fine. He got as far as my shoulder, before my wrench ‘slipped.’ The engines are almost ready. Ying and I will get this warmed up. You go save Lucas and the crew.”
Gabriel pressed a kiss to her forehead and nodded. “I’m off then.” He turned and ran, headed for the dinghy. The town lay dark below him as he let himself down to the ground. Street lamps guttered and most of the decent folk were in at supper.
Fortunately, the saloon and brothel were just gearing up for the night. He passed in, ignoring the whores and the customers, and headed straight for Althaus’ office. Raised voices made him pause.
“Oskar, I have to take him into custody. He’s a murderer.”
“No, no and no. He is mine. I bought him fair and square. In two and a half years, you may take him and hang him. But I will have my money back from him.”
Gabriel pushed open the door. “Neither of you will do any such a thing.”
Althaus and the other man turned. The second wore a star on his chest and looked Gabriel over. “Who are you, sir, to be telling me what I will and will not do in carrying out justice?”
“Because, that man is not Cole Locke.” He produced paperwork on Lucas and handed it over to the sheriff.
The sheriff looked it over and grumbled. He passed it over to Althaus. “Seems to be in order. So where is Locke?”
“I just shot him for attempted rape, mutiny, and murder.” Gabriel’s face darkened. “So where have you stashed Lucas? He is mine, and I’d like him back, please.”
“He’s safe, perfectly safe.” Althaus had started to sweat. He handed the papers back to Gabriel. “Please, we have put him in a holding room. He is not working.” He dug in his desk and came up with keys. “I am taking you to him now. And I wish I had never set eyes on those men.”
He led the way out of the room, hands very visible, and took Gabriel to a storeroom just off the kitchen. Althaus cranked the key around in the lock and opened the door on a dark room. A man covered his eyes against the light.
“Lucas?” Gabriel walked inside and knelt down.
Lucas said nothing but threw his arms around Gabriel’s neck. “Is it over?”
Gabriel nodded. “It’s over. There’s only one man with your face now. I’m sorry, Lucas.” He held the man close to him. “Come on. I’m getting you out of this godforsaken town. And i’m sick of war fronts. What would you say to the Caribbean?”
“Warm sun and blue water and all the sugar I want in my rum? “ When Gabriel nodded, Lucas smiled and kissed him. “Yo ho, a pirate’s life for me, then.”
Gabriel led Lucas past the flabbergasted men and out into the moonlight, headed for the ship, the sky, and the sunset. “A pirate indeed.”